D&D General An alternative to XP

Scruffy nerf herder

Toaster Loving AdMech Boi
We've all played around with different XP tables, fast progression, slow progression, and asked ourselves: what do I award XP for?

However, how many stop to consider that XP might be a part of the rules of D&D but it never completely made sense for a TTRPG? Pretty much every mechanic in the game, in some way, serves to help D&D be immersive. The dice make the world chaotic and random. Attributes, action economy, etc. are the building blocks for players to understand much of what they are capable of doing.

What does XP do? Nothing. It's a number that marks your progress towards the next level; but your character isn't any stronger yet. Also it doesn't even represent very well what making progress, and getting better at what you do, is like for a character; that's not exactly stellar as that's pretty much the main thing XP should accomplish...

Well what do I propose instead? Narrative leveling. Forget XP is even a thing and ask yourself as the DM: are my players making progress? Are they in an extreme situation where they're forced to outdo themselves? Do they now have access to new knowledge and training?

Think about it. What if your players consciously thought about how to get better at what they do? Wouldn't they be more motivated?
 

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Staffan

Legend
The problem is that D&D is a level-based system. You get better at everything and you do so in discrete, fairly big chunks. There are plenty of other games that have more organic systems for advancement – the most notable is probably Runequest/Basic Roleplaying and its derivatives where skill use gives you a checkmark on a skill, and at appropriate intervals you use those checkmarks to potentially increase those skills by rolling above the skill value, and if you do you get a small increase. This will lead to an organic increase in those skills you actually use. You also have other games where you still get XP, but in smaller chunks and use them to increase your stats and skills directly.

The main advantage of D&D's method is that it's easy to get a rough idea of a character's capabilities: just look at their level. That means you can easily specify that a given adventure is for e.g. 5th level characters and people will know what to expect. You can't really do that with Runequest adventures, so you have to make do with vague things like "somewhat experienced" or use in-game notifiers of powers like "Runelord".
 

Scruffy nerf herder

Toaster Loving AdMech Boi
The problem is that D&D is a level-based system. You get better at everything and you do so in discrete, fairly big chunks. There are plenty of other games that have more organic systems for advancement – the most notable is probably Runequest/Basic Roleplaying and its derivatives where skill use gives you a checkmark on a skill, and at appropriate intervals you use those checkmarks to potentially increase those skills by rolling above the skill value, and if you do you get a small increase. This will lead to an organic increase in those skills you actually use. You also have other games where you still get XP, but in smaller chunks and use them to increase your stats and skills directly.

The main advantage of D&D's method is that it's easy to get a rough idea of a character's capabilities: just look at their level. That means you can easily specify that a given adventure is for e.g. 5th level characters and people will know what to expect. You can't really do that with Runequest adventures, so you have to make do with vague things like "somewhat experienced" or use in-game notifiers of powers like "Runelord".

I'm not sure I understand why it's a problem that D&D is a level based system. My players level up just like any other person playing the game. We simply don't use XP in order to determine when they achieve a new level. They must actually achieve a new level in the narrative, and are rewarded for this.
 

Oofta

Legend
I haven't used XP for a long time. Nobody seems to miss it and I don't want to motivate players with rewards, I want to motivate and reward their PCs. On the other hand I need something that's easy to implement so I just ask people how quickly they want to level. In my current campaign it averages every 2-4 sessions which is 10-20 hours of gameplay. Main variance is that I try to do it at a logical break point where it makes sense they would have some downtime to train and learn new capabilities.
 

Staffan

Legend
I'm not sure I understand why it's a problem that D&D is a level based system. My players level up just like any other person playing the game. We simply don't use XP in order to determine when they achieve a new level. They must actually achieve a new level in the narrative, and are rewarded for this.
I was mostly taking aim at this part: "It's a number that marks your progress towards the next level; but your character isn't any stronger yet. Also it doesn't even represent very well what making progress, and getting better at what you do, is like for a character; that's not exactly stellar as that's pretty much the main thing XP should accomplish...", and then looking at ways to make leveling more organic.

But what you are proposing is pretty much just milestone leveling from the DMG.
 

Scruffy nerf herder

Toaster Loving AdMech Boi
I was mostly taking aim at this part: "It's a number that marks your progress towards the next level; but your character isn't any stronger yet. Also it doesn't even represent very well what making progress, and getting better at what you do, is like for a character; that's not exactly stellar as that's pretty much the main thing XP should accomplish...", and then looking at ways to make leveling more organic.

But what you are proposing is pretty much just milestone leveling from the DMG.

You're right, it is pretty similar to the DMG there but there's a very important difference: practically all of the interesting and often weird alternatives presented in the DMG are too noodly and too well defined.

To me narrative leveling basically means the opposite of thinking there should even be rules regarding when and how to progress, my only concern is there being enough reason in the story itself for the characters to gain a level. And those story reasons could be anything, I have neither any clue what they might be nor the desire to pigeonhole myself at all.

Heck I may not have any idea it's going to happen when I start a session, as my style of DMing is highly improvisational. Sometimes I wonder why I even prepare the content that I've prepared because things so often go in other directions organically and at times most of the NPCs are ones that I simply discovered through play.
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
What does XP do? Nothing. It's a number that marks your progress towards the next level; but your character isn't any stronger yet. Also it doesn't even represent very well what making progress, and getting better at what you do, is like for a character; that's not exactly stellar as that's pretty much the main thing XP should accomplish...
XP serves as a measure of experience. When enough experience is accumulated, you have mastered your new features, gained HD, etc.

AD&D required training before you could level, the XP just meant you were eligible to level, it wasn't automatic.

One idea I played around with was actually allowing new features between levels, gaining them as you reached so much XP between levels, but it became to cumbersome to develop so I dropped it.

Anyway, a lot of tables use other standards: session-based, milestone, narrative, etc. instead of XP for leveling. Choose what works best for you and have fun with it. :)

FWIW, I still use XP, but award it for a lot of things other than defeating monsters.
 


Scruffy nerf herder

Toaster Loving AdMech Boi
XP serves as a measure of experience. When enough experience is accumulated, you have mastered your new features, gained HD, etc.

AD&D required training before you could level, the XP just meant you were eligible to level, it wasn't automatic.

One idea I played around with was actually allowing new features between levels, gaining them as you reached so much XP between levels, but it became to cumbersome to develop so I dropped it.

Anyway, a lot of tables use other standards: session-based, milestone, narrative, etc. instead of XP for leveling. Choose what works best for you and have fun with it. :)

FWIW, I still use XP, but award it for a lot of things other than defeating monsters.

Wait, didn't AD&D tie level advancement to something class related? I remember seeing stuff like "if you want to level up as a druid you have to go to your grove and challenge someone for their position", and that looked pretty awesome.

Edit: oh btw I came up with my own answer to exactly that question of how to give them features in between levels, and it's offering feats through NPC trainers. Getting a feat isn't as powerful as a level and there are also many juicy looking feats in terms of RP that don't look all that crazy mechanically, you get to choose which ones you offer after all.
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
Wait, didn't AD&D tie level advancement to something class related? I remember seeing stuff like "if you want to level up as a druid you have to go to your grove and challenge someone for their position", and that looked pretty awesome.
For Druids and Monks IIRC you had to challenge to reach higher levels around 8th to 13th. I'd have to grab my 1E PHB to be certain.

Edit: oh btw I came up with my own answer to exactly that question of how to give them features in between levels, and it's offering feats through NPC trainers. Getting a feat isn't as powerful as a level and there are also many juicy looking feats in terms of RP that don't look all that crazy mechanically, you get to choose which ones you offer after all.
Glad that works for you, but feats increase power creep too much IMO. We do allow skills, as well as the tools and languages normally offered, during downtime.
 


My table hasn't use XP since forever. To me as DM XP for specific actions is a boardgamey antique mechanism. Nowadays my players level when the story calls for it or it seems fun, by table consensus. Our current campaign celebrates one year of weekly sessions and the party is level 10, and it's a pace we are comfy with for this specific intrigue-heavy campaign theme.
 

Nebulous

Legend
I haven't used XP since early 3e probably. It was such a hassle - and arbitrary - that I deemed it a waste of my time to calculate (and I don't like math). We just use milestones and I control the rate of leveling up. Some levels are faster, some slower.

I would only use XP again if it was a resource to gain and spend to upgrade abilities, but I doubt such a mechanic would be introduced to DnD.
 



Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
I feel, as usual, incapable of determining when people are being sarcastic.
I think people are just noting that you have independently arrived at a solution that is already in the DMG - what most people are calling “milestone leveling” but the DMG properly calls “story-based advancement.” You seem to be proposing it like it’s a novel concept, but I think it’s how most groups play these days.

Personally, I’ll die on the hill of XP. It isn’t right for every campaign, but I think most campaigns can benefit from it. Sadly, the benefits are not obvious and people really hate having to do math, so here we are.
 

payn

Legend
Personally, I’ll die on the hill of XP. It isn’t right for every campaign, but I think most campaigns can benefit from it. Sadly, the benefits are not obvious and people really hate having to do math, so here we are.
It's not just lazy folks who dislike XP. It can have an undesirable effect on how players engage the game. For some, its a matter of preference.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
Just count encounters.

It takes about 4 standard encounters to gain enough experience points to reach level 2. So just count the encounters instead. Now it can be any kind of encounter, combat, nonlethal combat, social, exploration, chase, puzzle, whatever.


Number of Encounters: To Reach Next Level

4 encounters: level 1 to 2
7 encounters: level 2 to 3
10 encounters: level 3 to 4
13 encounters: level 4 to 5

16 encounters: levels 5 thru 12

8 encounters: levels 13 thru 20
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
I'm not sure I understand why it's a problem that D&D is a level based system. My players level up just like any other person playing the game. We simply don't use XP in order to determine when they achieve a new level. They must actually achieve a new level in the narrative, and are rewarded for this.
How does this differ from milestone leveling?
 

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